Thursday, November 29, 2007

PLAY: "Local Story"

Bubba sits beneath a cobweb of bells, pasting newspaper articles on the wall so as to remember the past, but more specifically, to do something active enough to snap out of his lovesick stupor. His sister, Amory, wants him to leave the house -- it's been three years since D'lady left him for his best friend and now roommate, Jimmy -- but he can hardly move. He's preoccupied -- "devoted to whatever it is he's studying -- but there's no form to his research, no direction." And that puts him in pretty much the same place as the playwright, Kirsten Palmer, an otherwise talented writer (Departures) who seems to be somewhere else throughout her own play, Local Story. One moment, characters are in Montana, three years ago, telling dream stories about their lives, and the next they're in town, reunited without a moment's pause. And while Susanna L. Harris takes the direction along for the ride, using dramatic shifts in lighting to literally bleed from evening to morning and scene to scene, it only confuses the claustrophobic set to have characters sitting idly through other, entirely disconnected, moments. The devotion is to home (the one that's where the heart is), but the research is loose and fragmentary, and the direction is clumped and massed together, never specific as we'd like.

This goes for the cast as well, a group filled with generalities both in the script and in their acting. Travis York, often cast as a thuggish sad-sack, holds up the best, at least consistent in his funk (and genuinely surprised by the things that smack him out of it), but even still seems unsure of what he needs. Havilah Brewster has a few moments of dashed hope and sudden grief when her character, Amory, realizes she cannot have a baby, but she buries that emotion in irrationally curt rage. As for the romantic couple, Keira Keely plays Betsy too much as a dream, so ungrounded that when she asks, "Pity me now?" the answer is a resounding no, and Mark David Watson (her beau, Jimmy) doesn't seem as consumed by love as much as by desperation. I'd be struggling to find some way to justify that part too; one moment, he's wise beyond his years in dealing with his childish roommate, the next he's petulant and dense.

The play is also fraught with a bunch of unexplained phenomenon: Roy sees ghosts, Betsy receives gifts that drop from the sky like manna, and D'lady (Sarah Kate Jackson) casually struts around without ever being taken to task for her arrogant seductions. It clashes with the very real moments: girls doing laundry, sitting on the porch, lying down on the bed, clacking on the typewriter, and as a result, Local Story never finds a voice for itself. That's sort of the problem with writing a play that deals, in large part, with the idea of entropy: when idleness is your theme, it's hard to find action and obstacles large enough to maintain anyone's interest. Especially when those characters continue to peer ever inward, refusing to connect.

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